From cooking 5 star meals at the Fontainebleau Miami Beach’s award-winning Italian restaurant, Scarpetta, to becoming a finalist on the 11th season of Bravo’s hit TV show Top Chef, Nina Compton is one of the most inspiring chefs to emerge from the Caribbean. Her story is one of humble beginnings, a true testament of discipline and a strong work ethic. I was afforded the opportunity to catch-up with Nina for a quick conversation where she mused about her childhood, inspirations and her future endeavours. It was an honour! I, myself, have a new found respect for chefs across the world.
Hailing from the eastern Caribbean island of St. Lucia, Nina Compton was born to the late Sir John Compton, a legendary Prime Minister of St. Lucia. One of her father’s most noteworthy accomplishments was helping the country gain its independence from British rule in 1979. Nina credited her father as being one of her most abundant sources of inspiration from both her childhood and her adult life. She explains: “I was brought up with a strong sense of family values, my parents were very supportive. One of the biggest lessons I learned from my dad was not to show weakness as a public figure. And I’ve carried that with me all my life.”
So how does one go from a small island in the Caribbean to being a FINALIST on a nationally televised cooking competition? The answer is simple: discipline and dedication. Nina started her cooking career at a summer job at a hotel in St. Lucia and from there she quickly realized her passion for the kitchen and decided to peruse cooking full time.
Nina Compton and fellow Top Chef finalist Nick Elmi
Like many of us who move away from home, the Top Chef finalist is often homesick. Currently residing in Miami, Florida she doesn’t visit St. Lucia as often as she’d like to because of her hectic work schedule. As the age-old adage goes, ‘You can take the girl out of the Caribbean, but you can’t take the Caribbean out of the girl’. Compton asserts that the Caribbean culture is still very much a source of inspiration for her in and out the kitchen. Her favourite Caribbean dish? Curried chicken. Simple, tried and true.
Opposite to the fast-paced work environment that she thrives in, Nina’s life outside the kitchen is very quaint. Instead of dancing the night away at the glamorous bars and nightclubs of Miami, she would rather have a quiet night at home, cooking for her husband, which is also a great source of inspiration and support for her. We laughed when I asked her about her being a 24-hour chef, but she agreed with pride.
When asked about what she would do with the prize money (of $125,000 cash) if she won the competition, her answer sizzles with altruism. “I would open a culinary school in St. Lucia. Because there is no training or cooking schools in St. Lucia, inspiring chefs have to go overseas for training, like I did. I would want to open doors and give back to the people of my country because they’ve been so supportive of me during this process.” Though this is a great legacy to leave behind, Nina also plans to use a portion of the prize money to vacation in Europe with her husband. After the stresses of the show, I could only imagine that she needs some time to relax and decompress. Smart girl.
For those aspiring to follow in Nina’s footsteps, she recommends that you invest in yourself. Read and travel as much as you possibly can. Learn about other unfamiliar cuisines, and be open to new experiences. Nina feels that top chefs are above all, disciplined and dedicated. They keep focused during turbulent times. A top chef does more than cook the food, they connect with the dishes.
Nina’s humbleness and honesty moved me. Her story teaches that there is much more to a chef that meets the eye and that commitment and dedication can move away obstacles. We just love it when that Caribbean fire catches on to something great. It illuminates brighter than all the rest. Here’s to Nina Compton of Top Chef. GCaribbean is very proud of you for representing the Caribbean in such a graceful manner.